Rambling musings on an Astros trade deadline

The Astros didn’t win the trade deadline, but they didn’t lose it either. There’s a lot to take away from Tuesday’s action (or lack thereof)

When I promised Ryan on this week’s podcast that I would write about the trade deadline, I expected to…you know…have a major trade to write about. Or maybe even two or three.

Instead, the Astros traded major league 5th outfielder Nori Aoki and AAA outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Blue Jays, receiving back a half-season of pitcher Francisco Liriano.

More on that in a second.

If you are a regular of #AstrosTwitter, you may have taken part in today’s chat. Debate. Firestorm. Chaotic armageddon of hot takes and opinions that burn like the venomous Hershey squirts.

I said some things I consider to be very profound. I said some things that I apologized for. I blocked a fellow Astros fan.

If you weren’t so fortunate as to waste Tuesday swimming in the cesspool of baseball social media, you missed a lot of angst.

Why the angst? There were two prevailing views:

  1. The Astros overvalue prospects and should have gone all-in by trading whoever it took to land at least one big name (generally, Sonny Gray and/or Zach Britton), and anybody who doesn’t agree doesn’t actually care about winning the World Series. Also, GM Jeff Luhnow totally failed at life today.
  2. The Astros should never make a “bad deal” regardless of their positioning in the standings, and besides, they are a zillion games out in front, virtually guaranteed to win the division, and the playoffs are a crap-shoot anyway.

Who’s right? Who cares. But it’s necessary to note that there was absolutely no middle ground between those two takes, and bitter enemies were made for life among Astros fans.

With all that as a backdrop, here are some musings about today’s trade deadline.

Liriano is REALLY good against lefties

Let’s play everybody’s favorite game and a staple crutch of bloggers everywhere: NAME THAT PLAYER!!

Player A: 2.81 FIP, 26% strikeout rate, 1.15 WHIP
Player B: 2.98 FIP, 24% strikeout rate, 1.15 WHIP
Player C: 3.04 FIP, 24% strikeout Rate, 1.04 WHIP
Player D: 2.93 FIP, 24% strikeout rate, 1.26 WHIP
Player E: 2.06 FIP, 31% strikeout rate, 0.80 WHIP

These are all career numbers vs. left-handed batters.

Player A: Francisco Liriano
Player B: Zach Britton
Player C: Brad Hand
Player D: Justin Wilson
Player E: Sean Doolittle

What was the Astros’ biggest need going into the deadline, as identified by pretty much everybody who actually watches the Astros? A lefty-killing pitcher.

Once Doolittle came off the board, the Astros arguably acquired the best lefty-killer out of all players acquired by any club during this deadline.

Liriano is really, really, really, really, good against left-handed batters.

And he put up those numbers as a starting pitcher. Speculation has it that Liriano was brought in to replace current dumpster fire lefty Tony Sipp. It is generally accepted that pitchers can be just a little bit nastier when throwing out of the bullpen. So take Liriano’s numbers against lefties and make them just a little bit nastier, and that’s who the Astros acquired.

That is not a meaningless addition. It is a great addition.

And in a classic addition-by-subtraction move, dealing Aoki allows Top 100 prospect Derek Fisher to play every day in Left Field for the Astros. Aoki was good for the Astros. Fisher has been better: a legit power/speed threat who provides plus left field defense.

I’d hate to be a front office employee this time of year

No matter what you do, a large segment of fans HATE you right now. Because all of them, especially the ones sitting on the john banging away on Twitter during a stolen few minutes at work, know how to do your job better than you, and also KNOW that they could have gotten more for your assets than you did.

Here are all things that are likely to happen to every club during the trade deadline:

  • Opposing GMs’ asking prices are sky-high because they think you’ll pay ANYthing for that slight edge over competition.
  • You get out-bid by another club on a player you really want, and just can’t help it.
  • You don’t get out-bid in terms of value, but the acquiring club likes a certain player that another player is dealing, and nothing you can offer short of highway robbery can change their minds.
  • You have structure of a deal in place only to have some other super-desperate club swoop in with 5 minutes left and make a better offer, without any time for you to up the ante.
  • You have the structure of a deal in place only to have your owner kill the deal.
  • You have the structure of a deal in place only to have the opposing owner kill the deal.

These aren’t excuses for Jeff Luhnow to cling to after only making one trade this deadline. They are the realities of the business. I get it – fans don’t want to hear this stuff, because big trades are exciting. But wish-casting doesn’t make reality go away.

Prospect rankings are stupid

No really, they are. They’re FUN. But they’re stupid, and ultimately meaningless.

So the Yankees gave up some prospects, the “best” of which was ranked 77 by some internet website that doesn’t work for those clubs.

And?

Clubs have their own valuation for players in the majors and minors. They also have a LOT more information than you do, or I do, or Baseball America does.

You may think that the Astros could have topped a Yankee package for Sonny Gray. You may be entirely wrong, because maybe the A’s think Jorge Mateo is a Top 5 prospect in baseball and they think Kyle Tucker is gonna be a bust! Maybe they want a stud infield prospect after dealing away Addison Russell a couple years ago. Maybe they just don’t want an outfielder.

Who was (arguably) the best player in the Jarred Cosart deal? It wasn’t Cosart, a Top 100 prospect. It wasn’t Kiké Hernandez or Austin Wates. It wasn’t Top 100 prospect Jake Marisnick or #5 overall draft pick Colin Moran. It was un-ranked, un-heralded, unknown starting pitcher Francis Martes, who is now one of the youngest players in the major leagues, who has a 4.09 FIP and strikes out eleven batters per nine innings during his age-21 rookie season.

Did the Astros think that Martes was the best player in this deal? It’s doubtful. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t consider him to be a major part of the deal at the time.

Top 100 lists aren’t worth very much when trying to evaluate trades.

Bigger things could be ahead

This one is more of a speculative thought exercise, but is possible.

The Astros are heavily invested in decision sciences. I’d be willing to bet that they have the next several seasons mapped out in terms of likelihood of contention for all clubs in the major leagues.

Maybe they intentionally opted not to deal their best prospects for “B-quality” players this trade deadline (and the pool of available players was unusually weak this July), because they think something even better could be had for those prospects during the off-season.

For example: With the moves made by AL East teams, it’s entirely possible the Rays fall way out of the playoff race. Will that make them reconsider their medium-term position? Does Chris Archer become available this off-season? Can the Astros leverage their kept prospects to land a true ace who wasn’t actually available this July?

It’s possible.

The Astros are pretty darned good already

It is a legitimate question to ask if they really needed to make a major deal (beyond what they actually did do, I mean).

They’re virtually guaranteed a playoff spot. it’s true. They would have to go 21-37 (.362) from this point forward to NOT win 90 games.

Sure, they’re banged up right now, and the bullpen is going through a cold spell.

But every MLB club has injuries, and every club has to ask, “What if somebody gets hurt and isn’t available in the playoffs?” The Astros aren’t unique.

So, absent any information that guarantees that certain players won’t be available, you have to compare clubs as if they’re all healthy. And this is how I see things stacking up:

Springer
Reddick
Altuve
Correa
McCann
Beltran
Bregman
Fisher

Keuchel
McCullers
McHugh
Fiers
Morton

Giles
Devenski
Harris
Peacock
Liriano
Gregerson
Martes/Feliz/Musgrove/5th-starter

I mean…that’s a really, really, really stinking good roster. One (again, assuming health, which we have no reason to assume otherwise, at least no more reason than any other MLB club) that really can’t be matched by anybody except the Dodgers.

I’ll take it.

I ain’t mad.

Whether the Astros did anything or not, the Astros still win the trade deadline by having the best roster in the American League and a nearly 100% chance of making it into the playoffs.

Read the full story at Crawfish Boxes.

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